After 20 years, Ice Den Scottsdale continues to be Valley staple
There was much uncertainty back in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets relocated to Phoenix to become the Coyotes.
Could the NHL work in the desert? Would there be a fan base? Were there enough rinks in the area?
Fast forward to 2018 and the growth speaks for itself.
The Ice Den was built in 1998 to house the NHL Coyotes and remains the team’s official practice facility, and is home to Jr. Coyotes youth travel hockey, box lacrosse and a slew of figure skating, hockey and ice skating programs and events.
Now in its 20th anniversary season, those that have been with the Ice Den for the long haul are proud to reflect on what the building means to the hockey and skating communities.
“When the Coyotes first arrived, I was working for Ice Capades,” remembers Ice Den vice president of programming and skating Julie Patterson. “We had an airplane hangar and offices in the Scottsdale airpark. The Coyotes called to see if the players could practice on our portable ice rink. It was 100 feet by 60 feet with no boards. We used it to rehearse. It barely fit inside the hangar and planes would taxi by watching us skate. A few of the hockey operations staff came to scout the rink but unfortunately, it wouldn’t work for the team.
“Not long after, the Coyotes contacted me to see if I would provide support for the new practice facility being built and that is how I met (Ice Den and Coyotes Ice president) Mike O’Hearn, who hired me in the fall of 1997 as the director of programming and skating.”
“Working with the Burke family for over 20 years (dating to the team’s last year in Winnipeg), their trust and support has allowed our management and staff to realize its true potential,” said O’Hearn. “For me, after 20 years, the goals have changed somewhat. We have a mature, flourishing business in Scottsdale and more recently, Chandler. Our staff is the best in the business, which has afforded me the ability to concentrate on our overall vision. Now, it’s more about tweaking the business to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. We have literally updated almost every aspect of the Scottsdale location each year in one way or another.”
And as times change, so does the way the Ice Den is run. O’Hearn said it’s all been positive transitions.
“When the Burkes sold the team in 2001, they recognized what an asset the Ice Den was to the community and the growth potential ahead. For those reasons, they chose to keep the Ice Den and redevelop it. It was a way for them to support grassroots hockey growth and to give back to a community where they’d made their home. My responsibilities turned to transitioning from a single-tenant (Coyotes) use to a multi-tenant building with the addition of restaurants (18 Degrees) and retail/commercial (Divalicious, Mountainside Fitness, Venn Construction),” explained O’Hearn. “Over the years, we’ve made significant improvements to the original facility with the addition of a third sheet of ice in 2011, which allowed for a multipurpose facility featuring turf sports and events. Other construction projects included retooling the sand floors in the original rinks to concrete, consistently updating and improving technology in the building and back-end rink equipment, infrastructure and ice plants. We’ve added amenities like pro-style dressing rooms for our top-tier hockey and skating programs as well as an off-ice conditioning area and a high-end video room to complement on ice training.
“All of these investments have allowed us to remain the premier ice facility in the state.”
A ballet room for figure skaters was also added three years ago.
And even as name changes over the years have taken place (Cellular One Ice Den to Alltel Ice Den to Ice Den Scottsdale), consistency in operations and being a valuable asset to the community has never wavered.
Like the countless NHL players who have practiced at the rink, on the ice skating side, Patterson noted that a who’s who of Olympians have skated at the Ice Den through the years: Dorothy Hamill, JoJo Starbuck, Tai Babilonai and Randy Gardner, Brian Boitano, Brian Orser, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning, Michelle Kwan, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Jeni Meno and Todd Sand, Todd Eldridge, Elena Berezhnaya, Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, Adam Rippon, Gracie Gold and Nancy Kerrigan. Additionally, both Steven Cousins and Naomi Lang presently coach at the Ice Den.
Just this past summer, one of the three ice sheets was renamed the Shane Doan Rink.
Marcy Fileccia serves as the vice president of marketing and communications and said that working in sports has always been her “dream job.”
“I grew up in Winnipeg and the Jets moved to Arizona my senior year of college at ASU,” said Fileccia. “I met the original sales team at McDuffy’s Sports Bar in Tempe during the Jets-Red Wings series where my roommates and I dominated a trivia contest. I told one of the guys that if they hired me I would return all of the swag we won. It turned into a summer internship, then a full-time job in ticketing for a season and then four more working for the Goals For Kids Foundation. I left in 2001 when the Burke’s sold the team but returned to the Ice Den in 2013 in my current role.
“Working here, no two days are the same, and to be a part of the hockey and skating community – there really is no community like it. We have incomparable leadership and a strong staff, plus a loyal community. We’re always striving to be innovative and current and we have fun.”
On that note, O’Hearn said keeping things simple has been a major component to sustainability over the past 20 years.
“We have purposely never viewed the Ice Den as solely a skating rink, which in my estimation, would have limited our opportunities,” O’Hearn said. “Seeing ourselves as an entertainment facility gave us the courage to push the envelope, be creative and challenge the expectations of our staff and our customers. I believe that mindset has kept us fresh and appealing. Of course, our programs, youth and adult hockey as well as skating, remain the backbone of our business model. We never take those programs for granted and our staff is the best in the business.
As the director of youth hockey development, Scott Gruber echoes his colleagues’ sentiments in saying that working at the Ice Den is very appealing and extraordinary. The house league program he oversees has grown each season to 32 teams this upcoming season.
“My mom heard about the rink being built during my senior year of college and when only the walls were up, I stopped by to inquire about employment opportunities,” Gruber said. “My first role was head ice technician, which meant I would be part of the team to install the first sheets of ice. I worked in facility operations for nine seasons before transitioning to youth hockey.
“I grew up playing hockey in Minnesota and Arizona and jumped at the chance to be a part of the NHL and a brand-new building. My job allows me to create a love for hockey in young hockey players by sharing my passion for the game.”
With 20 years down, what do the next 20 hold for the Ice Den Scottsdale?
“I’d like to believe that we’ll never truly be quite finished with the Ice Den Scottsdale project, and continue to strive to duplicate the success in Chandler,” said O’Hearn. “Exploring new and creative ways to improve our business makes it fun for all of us and means that every day brings something new and exciting, on and off the ice.”
Photos/Sandra Tenuto Photography
— Matt Mackinder
(Oct. 3, 2018)